The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Michael Sam’s representation announced Friday night that the documentary series that was set to feature the first openly gay NFL player has been postponed.
“After careful consideration and discussion with the St. Louis Rams, ‘The Untitled Michael Sam Project’ has been postponed, allowing Michael the best opportunity to achieve his dreams of making the team,” OWN president Erik Logan said in a statement. “OWN is about elevating and empowering people to achieve their best. It’s clear that we, along with the world, recognize the opportunity that Michael has in this moment. We will continue to support him in his journey to earn a spot playing for the Rams.”
The statement also included a comment from Sam’s agent, Cameron Weiss, who met with the Rams in person on Friday.
“After today’s meeting with the Rams, we felt it is best to postpone the project,” Weiss said. “This will allow for Michael to have total focus on football, and will ensure no distractions to his teammates. Everybody involved remains committed to this project and understands its historical importance as well as its positive message.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wondered if the Rams regretted drafting Sam just because of the series, and claimed that the NFL knew about the series while the Rams did not before the draft. The league came out strongly to deny that Friday.
“No way,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told NFL Media’s Albert Breer when asked if the NFL was aware of the series. “Did not know anything about it until after the draft and have not agreed to anything about it.”
A player on the St. Louis Rams, speaking on condition of anonymity, says Michael Sam’s upcoming reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network could potentially cause friction within the team.
“It’s an interesting case that he gets to work with Oprah and have his own show, but I think it does raise eyebrows and it may be somewhat of a distraction,” the player told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “But this is our first time dealing with something like this, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out and how people react.”
The player also isn’t certain if teammates are truly embracing Sam’s presence or just being politically correct when it comes to accepting the NFL’s first openly gay player.
Sam’s documentary is odd, if not off-putting, because after he came out in February, he asked the media not to create a circus. He told ESPN that his sexual orientation “shouldn’t matter if I work hard, if I make plays, that’s all that should matter . . . I am a team player, I can make plays. I can help teams win games. And that’s all that should matter.”
That same month at the NFL scouting combine, Sam told reporters, “I wish you guys would just say, ‘Michael Sam, how’s football going? How’s training going?’ I wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
By signing on with OWN, Sam wants his pioneering both ways…
Sensible people do not want to see Sam fail to make the NFL simply because he is openly gay. But he should remember the class displayed by his pathbreaking predecessors. Robinson and Aaron had enough hate to deal without adding fuel to the fire by boasting, “I’m black and I’m proud,” every time they crossed home plate after a home run.
It all feels orchestrated now: the draft-day kiss; the cake-covered face; the tears; the celebration that conveniently captured just Sam, his boyfriend and his two agents; and even the “Stand with Sam” T-shirts selling on michaelsam.com…
Michael Sam, the football player, is being used … by everyone. Weiss, Barkett and Bragman are cashing in. Oprah is hoping an attachment to the NFL can breathe life into her network the way the league does for CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN. The LGBT movement appears to be more concerned with Sam advancing the cause than making the roster. And, yes, the cause is more important than football. But playing football advances the cause a lot more than Real World St. Louis…
I believe Michael Sam can play in the NFL. I’ve written that, and stand by those words. His approach to making a roster is wrong. The NFL unemployment line is littered with guys who had enough talent to play but brought the wrong attitude. In terms of approach, Sam reminds me of Vince Young, the Texas quarterback who came to the league with the wrong handlers in his ear and washed out at a young age…
I support Michael Sam and the movement he represents. However, if I were Rams coach Jeff Fisher, I’d consider cutting $am today. He’s a marginal player with questionable focus on the game.
Ask Tebow, if you can find him. He’s out of the league now, probably for good, because he just wasn’t worth the noise. Denver got a taste of it and moved him to the Jets. The Jets had Tebow just long enough to decide they’d rather stick with Mark Sanchez too long, and then replace him with Greg McElroy, rather than giving Tebow the chance to do some of the Denver magic and win some games and then what? Then the Jets would be stuck with Tebow, stuck with all that noise. The Patriots brought in Tebow because the Patriots are soundproof, and maybe because Bill Belichick is buddies with Tebow’s mentor, Urban Meyer. But Tebow was never going to play there. He didn’t. And now he’s gone…
Sam is generating Tebow-like noise, and Tebow noise will get a guy cut. Ironic doesn’t begin to describe the similarity between Tebow and Sam, but both have more gravitas as a social experiment than as a football prospect. Tebow is the devout evangelist, hero to the conservative Christian masses, and that’s where the noise came from. It came from both sides, from those who love him and his worldview, and those who are offended by it. The noise was too much, but the noise wasn’t Tebow’s fault. He did a commercial here and there, and he talked about his faith all the time, but he never asked to be ground zero of the growing debate in this country about religion and its place in sports. We did that to Tebow, not vice versa.
Michael Sam? He’s doing some of it to himself. Certainly noise was going to happen around Sam regardless, even if he hadn’t kissed his boyfriend after being drafted, live on ESPN and then in a picture posted to Twitter of him kissing his boyfriend’s cake-smeared face. Michael Sam is the first openly gay player in the most popular sports league in this country: He doesn’t need any help generating noise.
But a documentary on the Oprah Winfrey Network? With cameras following him as much as the Rams will allow? That’s a lot of noise.
This isn’t a football issue, or even a matter of distraction. This is me just saying that a reality show is always a transparent and pathetic exercise in self-branding. It’s what Darren Rovell would do if he were an athlete. There’s no reason to expect Sam to be any more authentic a public figure than any other football player. But between the carefully scripted public-relations campaign that inaugurated his coming-out and now the news that his life will be a reality show overseen by Oprah Winfrey, the queen of aspirational disingenuousness, our first openly gay NFL player seems to exist now entirely within quotation marks. He is another packaged product being sold to us at heavy markup—commodified smarm at best, and at worst something downright cynical, something that leverages real emotions in service of a marketing strategy. No one wants to find out that Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech was copywritten by a dude at Pfizer…
It does him no favors to be part of this, but here we are anyway, and everything feels just a little icky. Our first openly gay player in the NFL is a total abstraction, a commercial for himself, an actor named Michael Sam playing the role of “Michael Sam” on The Michael Sam Show. Those quotation marks he’s trapped inside of are looking more and more like another kind of closet.
People also seem to be pissed about Sam’s insistence that he just wanted to make his transition to the pros about football and only football. Do you know what a documentary even is? It’s not an art film where he’ll have to chain himself to a bridge and protest a war. It’s not Godzilla 2 being shot on location in Guam. It’s the least invasive type of media in existence — and it does absolutely nothing to change Sam’s commitment to, or focus on football.
The only people who seem to lose focus about his documentary are the anonymous teammates who are totally jealous because no one gives a rat’s ass about their off field life…
I think his decision to acquiesce Oprah’s offer is not only acceptable, but actually more about professional football than people recognize. It’s a team sport filled with attention starved, underpaid, critically injured, often anonymous players who rarely are recognized in public (if you could pick out seven of your favorite squad’s special teamers out of a crowd, I’d give you $100).
Honestly, agreeing to build a brand at the behest of a media mogul is just about the most football thing I can think of. Who can fault him for that?
The NFL media don’t like the idea of a player having independent control of his public image, and so, in order to justify their distaste, they—the professional purveyors of image, the bards of the sideshow—invent the vague, question-begging category of sin known as “causing a distraction.”…
There’s a misdemeanor hypocrisy in Sam claiming he wants to be just another football player while securing a reality show or documentary about his efforts. But there’s more than a little disingenuousness, too, in the media pretending to take the former at face value but then swarming the seventh-round pick’s press conference. (Also, the assurance from Sam’s camp that this was entirely about football was plainly a tactical concession, designed not to rile the homophobes who worry that the Rams’ locker room is about to erupt into a pride parade.) It’s almost as if Sam isn’t just another football player…
This isn’t an NFL-exclusive issue, but it’s prevalent there in part because the football media have historically been a courtier press, friendly to the league and its interests and receiving favorable treatment in return. Various outlets thrive on inside access—mic’d up players, first-person essays, etc.—until a player dares to open up somewhere that isn’t within the usual circle. Then, his dedication to the game is questioned. Then, he’s creating distractions. How serious can he be about football if he’s whoring himself out to a TV show, wonders someone on ESPN. Gosh, something smells, says the fart.
The irony is that, in this narrow regard, Michael Sam is being treated like any other player, forced to deal with the same kind of bullshit that fellow rookie A.J. McCarron got over his possible involvement in an actual reality show. We create the celebrities around here, the NFL media seems to be telling him. No savoring the trail you’ve blazed, bud. Work until you’re either on the squad or off of our headlines. But before you go, can you give us a quote on which of your new teammates talked to you after you got drafted? Got any phone calls yet? Texts? What’d they say?